While there were challenges during the weekend, the weekend was a success because of the good attitudes and creativity used to meet some of the challenges combined with beautiful weather in gorgeous terrain. The countryside of Southern and Central Wisconsin was beautiful. The other joy was that some difficult contacts were completed over significant distances. For the second weekend, Jerry WA9O, Chris NØUK, and Holly KØHAC joined me (W9FZ) on a Central Wisconsin jaunt from south to north.
The weekend began by convening in Dodgeville, WI and lodging at the Don Q Inn. The Don Q Inn is unique and has lots of character. Jerry WA9O and I spent the evening scouting out locations for the next morning. We dined at Thyme's and had a fine dinner. Overnight, the first coldsnap of the year arrived leaving frost on most things in the morning. We were the first customers at Country Kitchen for breakfast. Then we proceeded to our first location about 5 miles north of town and we were ready for transmissions about 7:45am. Here, the first difficulties appeared. Namely:
NØUK found no tripod in his vehicle
W9FZ's receive was seriously degraded
Propagation conditions were average to worse than average
WA9O's primary computer (needed for CW) crapped out
We fabricated a stand for Chris's dish out of two plastic boxes and mini-coolers. The first location ended up not being good enough for what we were attempting so we moved down the road two miles to find an improved location. The improvised stand wasn't easy to use--it was just slightly easier than holding the dish by hand. After these two locations, we proceeded to Wal-Mart and then to Farm and Fleet seeking a solution. Farm and Fleet had rooftop tripods! A short length of pipe provided a perfect place to drop-in the pipe on the bottom of the dish assembly. This new arrangement worked great the rest of the weekend. Challenge met--challange conquered.
I had recently incorporated an 8w amp into my system. It appears that my receive was degraded 6 to 12 db compared to NØUK and WA9O. I was able to work the SE Minnesota Rovers at about 80 miles with SSB signals. But beyond that I could not hear. Chris NØUK had a complete spare transverter available at the 500mw level. Due to travel between spots and coordinations, I was not able to take the time to replace my tranverter on my dish with his loaner setup until overnight.
Conditions were just plain difficult. But we were attempting some long paths. WA9O and NØUK were able to eek out contacts with Buck Hill near the Twin Cities. K2YAZ and WW8M were worked from the improved first location. Several locations during the day were complete busts with Buck Hill. But I'm glad that we tried.
Jerry WA9O fortunately had a second computer so that he could send CW on these weak shots.
Saturday was a beautiful day and we basically activated four locations. A couple of those actually involved a pair of sites between a quarter mile and 2 miles apart. We were trying to look W and NW towards Minnesota at each spot as well as NE towards K2YAZ. The roads in Wisconsin have much more traffic than we've seen in SW Minnesota and the Dakotas. In order to get off the road and out of traffic, most of our sites were farm driveways where the farmer granted permission for us to park.
Around 6:30pm we finished up at one site and the Group at Buck Hill were taking down for the day. So we had daylight yet for us to enjoy the drive towards Hillsboro where we spent Satruday night. Enroute, we stopped at Erin's Snug in Reedsburg for a fine dinner. Who'd have thought such a nice Irish Pub and Grill would be in rural SW Wisconsin?
Sunday morning, after breakfast at the local Hillsboro Cafe, we proceeded up to Steckel's Hill northwest of town to activate our first spot. Conditions were better by a little. We all were able to work Buck Hill near Minneapolis and most of us completed with K2YAZ. The new loaner equipment was working for me! Our first contact of the day was with W9ZIH in the Chicago area. It was actually a chip-shot. After two hours at this site, we began our long trek nortward to the Wausau area.
We whipped off of I-39 near Coloma for one site to try with Buck Hill. Only an ok horizon, some of us completed with WBØLJC who was roving south of Buck Hill and with Buck Hill. This site only had a view W and NW. Then we got underway again northbound.
North of Wausau, we found a great site that is a new housing development that has yet to have it's first home. It has a GREAT view towards K2YAZ. Signals were actually pretty good so the word went out to the Michigan Rovers to find a spot to look west. They found a great spot near Bob's called Miller's Hill and it seemed to play very well. Contacts were made with K2YAZ, WW8M, NE8I, WA8VPD, and WB8TGY. It's getting on near 4:30 in the afternoon now. The few guys at Buck Hill have had a VERY quiet day. We relocate to a spot that has a view to the west and made our final attempt with Buck Hill. We both (Jerry and I) completed with W0JT but not with KDØJI. We have to remember that this is a LONG distance shot (270km overland).
The biggest thanks go out to all the stations who spent their weekend at Buck Hill. We had more difficulty contacting them than I anticipated. That might have been the bad conditions or unrealistic expectations on my part. If they had not hung out there all weekend, we would have had fewer stations to point at. So we are glad they were there. As Chris, Holly, Jerry and I discussed it, it seems that future rover groups could easily spend an entire weekend in either the Dodgeville area or the area west of Wausau. There are enough locations for two days work in each area. And operating time would be gained by not having to transit between the two areas. Any future rovers must know that they will need above average transmit power, require average or better receive sensitivity, and still may get skunked by conditions.